21st Century Librarianship – Revisited

In 2012 I tried to focus the majority of my Posts on librarian leadership. I thought in 2013 I would return to 21st Century Librarianship.
• Why is 21st Century librarianship important enough to write about?
• How is 21st Century librarianship different from previous concepts of librarianship?
• What does this 21st Century qualifier really mean?
• How is 21st Century librarianship described (since trying to “define” it would be very limiting)?
• What are some examples of 21st Century librarianship?

Everything about librarianship has changed since 2000 – technology, society, education and economics have all impacted the environment in which librarians operate, and these changes require new knowledge and skills. Librarians are seeing the need for new roles emerge such as; data management, school librarians teaching Internet information literacy, and Digital Image Metadata Librarian. New roles are emerging to deal with 3-D printers, school library staying open extended hours during finals week, and providing new services to remain relevant to their community. Not to mention an explosion of eBooks and eReader technology that is threatening the perception of the value of libraries, and ultimately their very existence.

Youth education has changed. According to a recent t|h|e Journal article – A 21st Century Librarian Helps Students See Through the Cloud – youth are being taught to be more information literate.

Many schools have renamed their libraries Media Centers, and the people who help students access their resources need to be as tech-savvy as any IT person. Today’s librarians have to know things like responsible use policies (also known as acceptable use policies) and how to guide students in the effective use of the Internet for research. For schools trying to incorporate technology into the curriculum these educators are key, because they speak the language of technology and education.

Michelle Luhtala—a self-titled “21st century enthusiast,” educator, and department chair at New Canaan High School library – values access to the cloud as a resource for her students. In addition to allowing access to timely information, Luhtala says, working with her students online has helped her teach critical thinking skills they’re not always able to grasp.

“We’ve been talking about resource evaluation forever with kids,” she said. “They look at the screens, they’d see the stuff coming in…and they’re like, ‘It’s a totally trusted source—it’s right there.’ They couldn’t distinguish between a blog and a subscription service and an op-ed piece and just a straight news article.”

The teachable moment came when she challenged the students on the snap judgment.
“They were having conversation about, ‘What are the clues that it might be an opinion piece or a blog? What kind of langue would we be looking for?’ These are the conversations educators have been chomping at the bit to have with kids and to have them engaged in it, and suddenly the kids were having the conversation amongst themselves,” she said. “That was very powerful.”

Meaning? Future library customers are becoming more information literate than ever before, as well as tech-savvy, which requires librarians to be more information literate and tech-savvy than ever before, both of which potentially will diminish the role of the reference librarian.

Librarian education is also changing based on new understanding of the role of librarianship in society. In a recent Library Journal article – USC Launches Master’s in Library Management – a totally on-line degree – they reported;

“It is the basic qualification for professional librarians”, Ken Haycock, director of graduate programs in library and information management, told LJ.

The MMLIS is “one of the first programs in librarianship in the United States to be affiliated with a major business school,” USC said in a statement. (Read the complete announcement at INFOdocket.com.) …

The MMLIS will differ from library degrees already offered by other institutions by including a required course in communication for leaders and a two-credit course in Research and Professional Applications required each semester, in which students will investigate critical, current professional problems identified by the advisory board, in teams and with faculty. [Emphasis added.]

Meaning? Librarians must become more business-like and broaden their skills to include other disciplines – if they expect to remain not only relevant but competative.

Economic Challenges
Libraries are being threatened by serious and long-term economic challenges that are raising serious questions about the fundamental role of libraries in the 21st Century. A LJ article last year reported on Harvard University Libraries’ drastic reorganization. Kira Poplowski, Harvard University Library’s director of communications, stated to LJ;

University leaders embraced a series of recommendations for the future of the Harvard Library system to establish a coordinated management structure and increasingly focus resources on the opportunities presented by new information technology. Ultimately, the University seeks to ensure that the Harvard Library continues to set the standard for research libraries worldwide.

Library Journal this week reported; Vermont Library Lays Off Whole Staff. After making reference to the Harvard University Library restructuring, the Library Board commented that reasons for their decision included;

The other stated goal of the restructuring is to gear the Athenaeum up to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing world of librarianship, including a new focus on digitization, research and technical assistance, super-broadband Internet access, and off-site services, as well as more emphasis on programs and collaboration with other institutions.

Q: Is there a future for public libraries?
A: Yes! Absolutely yes! There is an important role for public libraries, but it’s going to be different. Preparing for this new role for our library is the fundamental reason we are restructuring. Moreover, this change is occurring with great speed and we have some catching up to do. This is the reason we felt we needed to take a bold step forward, instead of small, incremental changes.

Questioning the value of the traditional place of libraries in society has led to significant loss of funding support that previously was provided mostly without question. As Use of Libraries Grows, Government Support Has Eroded was a recent NY Times article based on a report from the Center for an Urban Future‘s study Branches of Opportunity, in which author David Giles concluded;

On the downside, …, we find that New York policy makers, social service leaders and economic officials have largely failed to see the public libraries as the critical 21st century resource that they are, while the libraries themselves have only begun to make the investments that will keep them relevant in today’s digital age.

Meaning? Library leaders must become a respected member of the community they serve in order to demonstrate their library’s value to their community, as well as broadening their ability to serve the diversities of their community.

In a Blog post in March, 2011, I described “A Look Into Your Future.”

Corning [Glass] Incorporated’s presentation “A Day Made of Glass… Made possible by Corning” will amaze you.

Imagine touch screen technology in your library! Touch the OPAC screen to search for what you want. Browsers (people who browse) can touch the display at the end of the book stack to reveal hidden treasures. Touch the library calendar / events signboard display to reveal future library events, or schedule your own future event. What can you imagine for your library that others will make real?

Meaning? Technology has only just begun to change the library world. Librarians must become users of and advocates for improved technology in their library services.

Even though I’ve only scratched the surface on reasons why – ask yourself again – Why is 21st Century Librarianship important enough to write about?
Please share your examples of changing librarianship.


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7 responses to “21st Century Librarianship – Revisited

  1. Frank

    Dr. Steve,
    Great article, however technology is making the inefficiencies of the hiearchy in the Library profession more transparent. It is difficult to take any Library professional seriously and the ALA as well as long as they fail to correct simple problems like the requirements for entry level positions. To post a requirement that a Masters Degree is needed for an entry level job is so silly that any discussion about the future of libraries and what is required to improve them is pointless. It starts at the top and if they are foolish enough to believe students looking at possible careers in the field don’t see how silly that issue is then they are are just simply arrogant enough to believe they won’t be swallowed up by the digital revolution. The technology industry is fueled on money and if technology aids ideas such as the privatization of libraries then schools like USC have realized a way of profiting on that arrogance by creating expensive Masters curriculum’s in an age where some Stanford professors are using the same online technology to provide free courses https://www.coursera.org/#universities to counter the
    high cost of supporting education and the profession. As a student I didn’t create the mess but I would like my mentors to straighten it out as long as you are talking about leadership. You and I know it could happen tomorrow and we could move on if they wanted too.

    • Hi Frank, I agree that not only technology but the whole 21st Century environment in which libraries find themselves is exacerbating many issues with the inflexibility in the professional hierarchy. Change happens VERY slowly in a profession as old as ours, but I am starting to see some movement. It is encouraging to see a school like USC come back into the SLIS realm by collaborating with their Business School. It says that somebody finally figured out that librarians need to be more business-like – DUH!
      Unfortunately, this may be a move to strengthen the argument FOR a master’s degree as entry level, and it would be more encouraging to see a school like U. Maine Augusta move toward that kind of collaboration. We’ll just have to keep beating that drum – with patience.

      • Frank

        Unfortunately, USC is not allowing students to make smart business decisions by charging unrealistic tuition for an online curriculum that is the same whether you are in an apartment across the street or across the country. I am at U.of Maine because out of state tuition is only slightly higher than in state because it is an online curriculum. I had already checked into the USC program and the difference is paying USC 1500 per credit hour as opposed to Univ. of Indiana at 400 per credit hour for a Masters because of the in state out of state mentality. Will people be educated better because they are paying more in state or out of state. It doesn’t apply to online curriculum’s, the students have to be very dedicated to keep up with the courses online no matter where they are. The smart business decision is to pay the least for the same training you would get elsewhere. Professors at Stanford are offerring free classes while USC and other schools are cashing in. Who is more committed to their profession of educating people. In this day and age it is not the ones who charge the most and there are no quarantees it is what you do with your degree once you get it that matters not where you got it. That’s an entrepreneur!

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